If you don't have a purpose, you don't have a brand

If you say so. What do you mean by that?

To be fair it's not actually my line, but rather what the new chief executive at Unilever, Alan Jope, thinks. He made it abundantly clear at last week's Cannes Lions festival for the advertising industry what direction he is going to take the world's biggest household brand company in. Put simply, if a brand does not have a clear purpose in the eyes of its target customer then it has no future at Unilever. “We will dispose of brands that we feel are not able to stand for something more important than just making your hair shiny, your skin soft, your clothes whiter or your food tastier," is how he explained his position in a speech at Cannes. Now this won't happen overnight, but he expects that “in a few years' time” 80% of its portfolio, “will be competing with a clear view on what little good they can do for society or the planet”. It's not afraid to make big decisions to achieve that target. "We have acquired €2.8bn of turnover, all purposeful brands, and we have disposed of €4bn of turnover from brands that we think don't have a long-term proposition and are stuck in low-growth categories," he said last week.

That's all very good for him and Unilever, what's it got to do with us in the wine industry?

Everything. Unilever is responsible for making, marketing and selling a large proportion of the household brands we have in our kitchens and bathrooms. What products it chooses to make will have a major impact on how we as consumers behave, but also expect from all the other brands we bring into our homes. But what Jope says is not out of the blue. It's merely a reflection, admittedly a very big one, of what we as shoppers and consumers now expect from our major brands and retailers. We are no longer happy to form a civil queue and buy whatever brands our major FMCG powerhouses give to us. We now care more than ever about what we are putting on, or into, our bodies. We want to know how those products are made, where they come from and what impact they will have on the people who've made and sold them.

You mean the new caring, sharing, environmentally-friendly consumer we keep on reading about?

I mean exactly that. But this is no fad or gimmick. It represents a fundamental change in how an increasing proportion of people now want to lead their lives. A Mintel study, for example, in the US found that 56% of American consumers will stop buying brands they believe are unethical. A similar global survey found 91% of shoppers would switch to a brand that supports a good cause. Particularly the next generation of shoppers and workers, Generation Z, who were born between 1997-2003. A generation that, according to Bloomberg, will make up 32% of the world's population in 2019, just fractionally higher than millennials (born 1981-1996). Two-thirds of Gen Z will go out of their way to look for and buy products and back companies that are true to their values and beliefs. According to research by Ernst & Young they are also very different from the “what's in it for me” mentality of the average millennial. Instead they are self-reliant, highly resourceful and willing to get things done by themselves. They are also health conscious, risk-averse and want to have more control over their lives. Which is why over a third don't drink alcohol.

The kind of customer that Alan Jope and Unilever want to appeal to?

Now you're getting it. Yes, it's why Jope also told his Cannes' audience that “doing business responsibly is very deep in our DNA”. He is not alone. Brian Whipple, chief executive of Accenture Interactive also told Cannes Lion: “The world is changing. Generally, people [over 40] care about the world; the issue is, the younger generations care more.” So if you “want to attract the next generation of talent and sell into the next generation of clients, then there needs to be a purpose”. But this is not necessarily anything new. The best brands have always been the ones that are known for “something”. Be it Audi's “Vorsprung durch Technik” or Nike's “Just Do It”. Advertising guru Sir John Hegarty has long urged companies to “invest in their brand and not their product”. The difference now is that consumer's expectations of what brands stand for is so much higher.

All of this should be good news for a wine industry that ultimately relies on agriculture and farming?

On paper yes. But it's about far more than just planting some vines, growing some grapes and then fermenting them. Consumers are going to become, if they are not already, far more interested in how an average bottle of wine is actually made, but also how it ends up in their local store or restaurant. More questions are going to be asked about how much water and energy is used in the whole process, what sprays and fertilisers are being used. How many wine miles has a particular bottle stacked up.

So what is happening in wine?

It was a topic that came under scrutiny in the Innovation Zone at this year's London Wine Fair as different wine businesses were able to explain how they have put “purpose” top of their agenda. Like the Lanchester Group, owners of Lanchester Wine and Greencroft, the bottling business, which has always put sustainability and environmental practices at the heart of what it does. Mark Roberts at Lanchester Wines said the way it runs its business is as important to the company, and its staff, as the services they provide. It has, for many years, been self-sufficient and generated its own energy through its own wind turbines. It is now, he added, pumping water from disused mines in the North East to help power its new bottling facility. None of which ends up on the final bottle, but it is the right thing for Lanchester to do and hopefully its suppliers and customers.

And finally?

“Purpose is one of the most exciting opportunities I've seen for this industry in my 35 years of marketing,” is how Jope caught the imagination of Cannes Lions last week. It's a quote that the wine industry should take equally as seriously.